“ATTRACTIONS” by CLAIRE HOPPLE

Trinie attempts a change of scenery and is surprised with a new challenge.

 

I am sensitive to the texture of life like I am sensitive to the texture of food. Moving residences has the feel of a tortilla chip lodged in my throat. To ease the edge of it down my proverbial gullet, I wandered into a seedy bar.

In retrospect, it seems like this spectacle needed to happen, could only happen, if I were in the room. The room being a bar, specifically The Broad Lounge. It was most likely named that because of its location on Broad Street, but if you didn’t pay attention to street signs, it could easily be taken as a derogatory reference to women. The neon high heel displayed in the front window didn’t help.

When I walked in, the bartender instantly informed me of a karaoke contest that night. Instead of cash or a bottle of liquor the prize was a box of ice cream sandwiches. The kind made with chocolate chip cookies rather than the chalky brown planks. Sprinkles supposedly lined the outer edges of the ice cream, colorful sirens calling to the digestive tracts of the locals. Everyone seemed determined to win them.

A couple seated beside me had a baby with them, maybe a toddler. I didn’t think that babies or toddlers or children in general were allowed in a bar but no one else seemed concerned.

Anyway, I was there for maybe less than a minute before the couple started yelling at each other. They fought like there weren’t ample witnesses. The volume of their voices was becoming too loud to pretend not to hear. Plus, they started knocking some empty stools to the ground, one landing directly into my right shin bone.

This went on for a while until the man stormed off in the direction of the bathrooms. The woman shifted closer to me until I was forced to address her as a person.

“Take the baby,” she pleaded.

“What?”

“Take Roberta. Quick, before he gets back.”

She picked up the child and lifted her like Simba on Pride Rock.

“Umm.”

“Hurry, please. He’ll be back any minute.”

“Uh.”

“If you haven’t noticed, we’re unfit parents. She deserves better. We shout. We throw things. It’s just what we do.”

The woman did not seem ashamed by any of this. The baby was still held aloft and people were staring, so I inexpertly grabbed her from the woman’s hands just to make her stop.

There were so many questions and yet the least important one rose to the top, “Why did you name her Roberta? Isn’t that like a Grandma name?”

“See? Just another example of why you need to take her away. Go on.”

Babies make me very uncomfortable but I thought I saw some yellowed remnants of bruises on the woman’s arm and I heard rustling from the direction the man had disappeared.

“She’s just starting to eat solid food. She’s a very good baby. She’s very smart too. She was born with her hands perfectly folded coming out of the womb.”

I pictured Roberta taking her first breath, covered in gunk, each opposing finger interlocked and evenly spaced.

“Get out of here!”

She was shouting again but now it was at me. One of her eyes wandered while the other stayed stubbornly in place as if to emphasize her point.

No one intervened. She was right. Roberta didn’t deserve this.

On the way out, I reached into what was probably the couple’s van and grabbed a carseat. At least there was that.

Roberta and I flew onto the interstate, not stopping for several hours.

Ahead, the green sign labeled FOOD had a few standard fast food chain logos laid out like tiles beneath. The next sign labeled GAS had a couple choices. Then a third one appeared in succession labeled ATTRACTIONS and was completely blank. I liked this exit’s authenticity so I took it. Roberta made a snorting sound in agreement.

I was planning on leaving town before this whole event occurred. Everyone I told said they thought it sounded like a good idea, which was slightly concerning. The environment had morphed around me all at once it seemed.

Can you brag about all of the things you used to know? The facts that you once owned but have since been claimed by some external force?  Synapses pruned and left to rot like participation trophies? I wanted to ask Roberta all of this but instead I just angled my head toward the backseat, wanting to check on her but also wanting to watch the road. The pattern of my car’s upholstery was an endless zigzag, a visual representation of my motion sickness.

“My name’s Trinie,” I said to the seat.

 

 

In an unidentifiable suburb, Trinie and Roberta meet a stranger.

 

We trolled the streets, unsure of our next move. A yard sign boasted a furnished apartment for rent and I pulled over to investigate. Because why not land here?

I rolled down all the windows and handed the baby a box of Cheerios, which she promptly upended. That should keep her busy.

A man named Chip gave me a tour of the place, a three bedroom with two occupied rooms. Apparently “furnished” meant the apartment was outfitted with an empty bookcase, two closed and locked bedrooms, an available room with a box spring sans mattress, and a player piano in the hallway. In the bathroom, above the toilet hung a picture of a bathroom. I internally raged at this overly literal wall art.

“I’ll take it,” I said, shaking Chip’s hand.

Once he found out I was from Cincinnati, he kept asking me whether I knew Carlos or Crosby or any number of vague landmarks along with names, and I had to keep apologizing for not knowing them, watching him simmer in the scourge of disappointment.

 

 

Chip set his white noise machine to Distant Thunder since Aircraft Interior gave him dreams about God literally becoming his co-pilot and Hairdryer reminded him too much of Jane.

 

Once Trinie admitted to harboring a child, I felt comfortable enough to divulge my situation: the other roommate Jane hadn’t been around for weeks. I also confessed to my compulsion to legally change my name every couple of months. She needed to know not to throw away all the mail addressed to other people. Still, I didn’t need to throw in the more personal details of how it felt each time I changed it, the freedom in declaring I was named after no one when handed a fresh social security card.

Things I didn’t like about Trinie: At the movies, settling into our seats, she looked up at the screen and whispered at a shouting decibel, “We’re too close.” She also had no idea what to do with Roberta.

Things I liked about Trinie: She put up with my lectures and hypotheticals. For example, I asked her what she thought about me intentionally amputating one of my hands. I argued that rather than installing a costly prosthesis, a hook would prove more useful even than a regular hand. It would make me a hit at summer barbecues while manning the grill and winter parties when hosts ran out of places to put people’s coats.

She pretended to listen when I advised her to never keep any stickers or magnets or personalized memorabilia on her car. Because what if the cop who pulls you over isn’t a fan of that band plastered all over your bumper? What if he or she was attacked by a stingray in your beloved OBX? Plus, maybe there was a mistake at the plant. Maybe your key will also work on another vehicle of the same make and model. Except that vehicle is owned by someone who vacuums it occasionally. Someone who keeps rolls of cash in the console rather than sunflower seed shells and rusted out bobby pins. And pennies. What have pennies done lately?

 

Sitting up in the stained highchair, the baby wonders if she is cranky because she is underfed or underfed because she is cranky.

 

As I gummed some ancient crumbs found in the narrow crevices of my chair, I also wondered why adults were so amazed by learning how to talk, as if that were the most effective form of communication.

I think we all know that Chip is regressing. Sure, the name-changing preceded our arrival. But yesterday he asked the librarian whether he could join the Summer Reading Club. He also started writing down his thoughts in a starkly marbled composition notebook with extra wide rule. A dashed line fit between each regular line, roads of thought leading to a juvenile mind. And though it was impressive to watch him launch a clot of mucus through the window and onto the feral cat below with tremendous accuracy, his behavior was getting out of hand.

He claimed this stems from a stunted adolescence; the bruise from his brain hitting its own immovable skull, harmed by the very thing designed to protect it. The concussion caused him to endure something called “brain rest,” forcing him to spend days alone in his unlit childhood bedroom with only the bare ceiling above. Not even a crack or water spot on it to analyze. Why this regression started in his mid-30s is a question you might be asking, is a question we should have all been asking.

And though I took great pleasure in picturing him as a zombified man performing his own brand of tai chi in a public park somewhere, a stupefied peace overwhelming him and rising above the surrounding playground equipment, I knew it was time to go.

 

 

Trinie fully embraces her incompetence.

 

Roberta crawled around on the sidewalk while I sat on the curb. She was picking up speed, veering off into a parking lot. Just as I hopped up to grab her, she reached an old woman getting into her car, someone who looked old enough to be worthy of the baby’s name, perhaps worthy of the baby herself. So I just let it happen.

 

 

 

Claire Hopple’s stories have appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Quarter After Eight, Breakwater Review, Timber and others. Her story collection TOO MUCH OF THE WRONG THING (Truth Serum Press) will be released in November 2017. She’s just a steel town girl on a Saturday night. More at clairehopple.com.